Most kids (and plenty of parents) like to build—forts, castles, towers, model airplanes, and more—which explains why there are so many products out there designed to help us do just that. They range from simple wooden blocks and kits that show us how to construct all sorts of cool things using objects that we have around the house, to the most complex building sets. There’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment that one gets from stepping back and looking at a completed project. Most of the time, though, that’s about all you can do with it. But there’s a special thrill that comes from seeing whatever you’ve built come to life: electrical projects that turn lights on and off, radio kits that receive real broadcasts, and, of course, anything that moves. This week we’re taking a look at two very different construction sets that will provide hours of parent-child entertainment, both during the actual assembly process and afterwards, when it starts to move.
Runners (Laser Pegs)
Laser Pegs has a variety of products that take Lego-type building to a whole new level by adding lights that flash, blink, and generally make what you’ve build look very cool. But in their Runners line, they’ve added motion. Runners come with fewer than 30 pieces, including the battery-operated base that powers the lights and the wheels. Besides making cleanup a little easier, that also makes construction quicker—15-20 minutes after opening the box, you’ll have a colorfully lighted tank running around your floors. The step-by-step instructions are easy enough to follow that even young builders will be able to take charge. The kit we tested lets you build six different moveable vehicles. But the possibilities are truly endless. There are plenty of additional suggestions on the company’s website, and Runners are also compatible with other building sets, making them infinitely expandable. The package says that Runners are “for boys and girls ages 5 and up”—a very smart move and we hope will encourage a lot more girls to see building as not being only for boys. Retails for $14.99 and is perfect for ages 5 and up. http://www.laserpegs.com/
14 in 1 Educational Solar Robot Kit (OWI Robotics)
If you’re looking for a more challenging construction experience, this is it. The 14 in 1 Educational Solar Robot Kit is exactly what it claims to be. You can build 14 different robots, the intricate moveable parts make it plenty educational, and it is powered by the sun, so no batteries required. It’s also incredibly fun. But you’ll need to be patient. Very patient. Each of the molded plastic pieces (I lost count at about 200) has to be clipped out of a plastic frame. And you’ll need to look very closely at the illustrated instructions to make sure all the components are facing the right direction before putting them together (if you get something wrong—and you probably will—not to worry: you aren’t using glue and the pieces snap together and unsnap pretty easily).
The 80+ page manual has instructions on how to build each of the robots, including a dog that wags its tail, a running beetle, a walking crab, a zombie chaser, a turtle, and even a boat that actually operates in the water. The 14 robots come in two levels of difficulty, though the entry level projects are still challenging enough that it took a highly skilled 10-year old builder and her dad more than an hour to put one together. Ages 10 and up. Retails for $31.95. http://owirobot.com/